Learn About Whales
Whales are the largest species of animal
alive today, and the Blue Whale is the largest known animal ever to have
lived on earth. Despite their size, whales are extremely gentle and
Though they live in the sea, whales are mammals, not fish, and so cannot
breath underwater. Their need to surface for air is the source of
whales' most recognized feature - the expulsion of old air through their
blowholes and the resulting massive spray.
Many whales will take the opportunity provided by the need to get oxygen
to play at the water's surface. This behavior manifests itself as
breaching and tale slapping, which in turn provides a great show for
observing humans. After taking in a breath of fresh air - also through
their blowholes - some whales can then hold their breath underwater for
up to two hours.
As mammals, whales also give birth to fully developed offspring, rather
than laying eggs, and then feeding those young with a thick
toothpaste-consistency milk from mammary glands. The nursing phase
usually lasts more than one year, producing a very strong bond between
whale calves and their mothers. Whale calves can often be observed at
winter whale watching destinations in southern California and the
Another interesting characteristic of whales is their use of lyrical
sounds, or songs, to communicate with each other. Due to their enormous
size and power, whales can sing extremely loud, and their songs can
often be heard from miles away.
Life expectancy for whales ranges from 30 years to 90 years depending on
the species, and some whales have been documenting as living well over a
Whales are often divided into two groups: those with teeth, and those
that have a hair-like substance called baleen instead of teeth.
Most of the common, and all of the largest whale species are baleen
whales, which filter plankton, krill and small schooling fish through
the sieve-like baleen in their upper jaws as they take massive gulps of
Toothed whales, the most prominent of which are sperm whales and orca
whales (popularly known as killer whales), prey in a more normal fashion
on larger fish, squid and other marine mammals.
Whale species that feed in shallower waters near the shore, and are
therefore the most easily sighted during whale watching tours, include
humpback whales, gray whales, fin whales, minke whales and orcas. Blue
whales, sperm whales and the very endangered North Atlantic Right Whale
are also often, though less frequently sighted.
While there is a large variety of whales that can be observed, there is
little question that the most exciting species to encounter, especially
for those who have come for a good show, is the Humpback Whale.
Humpbacks are naturally curious, and will often interact directly with
whale watching tour boats and their passengers.
It is not uncommon for humpbacks to come very close to whale watching
tour boats to do a little "people watching" and wave to passengers with
their unusually long pectoral fins.
Even when they are not directly interacting with boats and passengers,
humpbacks continue to provide a great show with their long melodic
mating songs, acrobatic breaching and spectacular "bubble-netting"
feeding technique, during which several humpbacks will come together and
blow air through their blowholes in order to herd schools of small fish
into a tight ball through which the whales then plunge.
As the ocean's most ubiquitous whale species, humpbacks can be found at
just about every major whale watching destination.
Whales are a magnificent species of animal that we are only starting to
understand. Their high intelligence, gentle nature, curiosity and sheer
size leaves little doubt as to why whale watching